Friday, May 30, 2014

George Cooper — Kuhn Wins The Piketty Debate

We are now far enough through the cycle of Piketty analysis to know how it will end. There will be no clear victor. Those who were instinctively supportive of Piketty’s thesis before reading his book will be able to ignore any alleged flaws in his data, and challenges to either his mathematical theory of capital accumulation or his narrative theory of capital destruction. This group will conclude what they already knew – inequality is too high and rising and should be addressed with higher taxation. On the other side, those who were immediately sceptical of his thesis will dwell on the discrepancies in his data and the challenges to his mathematics and history. This group will conclude that his thesis can safely be dismissed.

Of the small minority who have the time and patience to delve into multiple layers of argument and counter argument there will be a vanishingly small proportion who are persuaded to materially alter their position, based on what they have learned. A much larger number of people, on both sides, will find reason to consider their prior point of view as vindicated by the Piketty debate. This group will emerge from the affair with more deeply entrenched positions than before. As a result the economic debate will become more polarised and even more dysfunctional. In short, the confusion generated by Piketty’s book will push an already deeply dysfunctional economics further into crisis.

Perversely the deepening crisis in economics is a triumph for Thomas Kuhn and his theory of scientific revolutions.
Isn't this where we started with the orthodox-heterodox divide?
For those of us who enjoy debating macroeconomic issues this is all good entertainment. However, as a process for deciding how best to manage our economies, this sterile, divisive, debate is a dreadful way to proceed. Economics is ultimately responsible for setting the policies which determine the livelihoods of millions of people – we therefore owe it to ourselves and our children to find a better way to conduct the debate.

Fortunately Thomas Kuhn did more than just describe what scientific crises looks like, he also told us what needs to be done to resolve a scientific crisis. Kuhn explained we need to find a way to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable world views of the various competing schools of thought.

On the face of it appears an almost impossible task to find a theory which is able to agree with both the instinctively pro-Piketty crowd with his instinctive opponents. But with a little imagination there may be a way through this impasse.

Cooper's analysis of the design problem and proposal of a design solutions follows. Definitely worth a read.

Kuhn Wins The Piketty Debate
George Cooper


Matt Franko said...

"“A heavy progressive or graduated income tax” and “Free education for all children in public schools” – have already been implemented. "

Its free only if the Facebook people give us the "money"....

Matt Franko said...

Everyone else has to pay local school taxes either directly or indirectly (through rents) to get "free" schooling...

"If you do not have the ideas then at least have the courtesy to respect those of us who are making an honest attempt to find a way out of the current confusion."

Nobody here is confused.